What Does The Future Hold For QB Johnson?

March 13 - The Buccaneers still have yet to offer an explanation as to why it omitted $1.5-million of guaranteed salary from quarterback Brad Johnson's recent contract proposal, which would have freed up millions in cap room. Pewter Report takes a closer look at why the mishap has some wondering if Johnson has a future in Tampa beyond the 2003 season.

Shortly after Tampa Bay traded four draft picks to Oakland in exchange for head coach Jon Gruden last year, some people, including Pewter Report, wondered whether or not quarterback Brad Johnson would fit into Gruden's system.

Now, Brad Johnson and his agent are wondering if they will fit into Tampa Bay's plans after the 2003 season.

At first, it didn't seem like Gruden was a big Brad Johnson fan. After all, Gruden talked highly of QB Shaun King and rarely mentioned Brad Johnson. And when free agency began, Gruden personally courted free-agent QB Rob Johnson, and the former Buffalo Bills quarterback signed with the Bucs shortly after their meeting.

Despite all of the above, Brad Johnson didn't take long to prove to Gruden that he was more than capable of running his offensive system, and he certainly blew away the competition in training camp.

In fact, Johnson led Tampa Bay to its first Super Bowl championship and a franchise-best 12-4 regular season record last season. He also played in his second Pro Bowl after he completed 62.3 percent of his passes for 2,799 and tossed a franchise-high 22 touchdowns and just six interceptions.

Johnson's teammates suggested he was the team's MVP last season, but some feel the Bucs front office didn't treat him like one two weeks ago while attempting to renegotiate his contract through agent Phillip Williams.

Johnson signed a five-year, $28-million contract with the Bucs during the 2001 offseason and the Bucs were attempting to lower his $5.8 million cap value in 2003 by working up a new deal.

Tampa Bay sent Williams a new contract proposal which would have saved the Bucs about $4.5 million this year, but the team omitted $1.5-million in guaranteed money in 2004 from Johnson's current contract.

This peeved Williams and his client, and the omission was big enough to kill negotiations between both parties. Although they received plenty of criticism, the Bucs have yet to comment, which has some drawing their own conclusions about why the mishap occurred.

Did the Bucs try to pull a fast one on Williams? If so, why?

Well, it might look like the Bucs tried to slide one by Williams, and one of the obvious reasons they would try something like that would be to save money.

But the Bucs might have had other intentions as well. While Johnson is signed through the 2005 season, perhaps the team was trying to set up its quarterback's new contract in a manner that would allow the Bucs to part ways with Johnson during the 2004 offseason without taking a huge cap hit.

Johnson is scheduled to have a $6.050 million cap value in 2004, and $1.5 million of his $4 million base salary is guaranteed. Johnson's contract also includes a $750,000 roster bonus that will be paid to the Pro Bowl quarterback on March 1, 2004 unless the team releases him before that date. Johnson will have a $7.3 million cap value in 2005.

While he had one of the best seasons of his career last year, Johnson, who will turn 35 in September, had an injury-plagued season in which he missed three games due to different injuries.

By restructuring seven players' contracts this offseason, the team has helped set itself up for another serious run at the Super Bowl next season. But after 2003, Tampa Bay could be facing some serious salary cap problems. By restructuring contracts, all it does is delay the inevitable. That said, the Bucs could suffer the same fate as the Dallas Cowboys San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens, all of which had to gut their rosters after Super Bowl runs due to serious spending that led to salary cap issues.

If the Bucs have to spend a year or two rebuilding due to aging players and salary cap problems, they won't likely keep Johnson around for it, especially when he has such a high cap value in the final two years of his contract.

One problem with this scenario is the Bucs don't currently have a quarterback of the future on its roster, unless Greg Zolman, who is the only other quarterback under contract with the Bucs, surprises people.

But that could change in the next couple of days when the Bucs are expected to sign at least one veteran free-agent quarterback. Gruden will hold a quarterback orientation next week and he'd like all of his quarterbacks to be in attendance.

Tampa Bay is believed to be considering signing quarterbacks Jim Miller, Shane Matthews, Bobby Hoying and Charlie Batch. The team is also interested in re-signing QB Shaun King, who hasn't received much attention on the free agent market.

In addition to signing at least one veteran, the Bucs will likely select a quarterback in the NFL Draft next month.

The Bucs are currently without a first-round draft choice due to its trade with the Raiders in exchange for Gruden, but this year's draft features plenty of quality quarterbacks, which means the Bucs could land a good one in the later rounds.

Some of the quarterbacks the Bucs could have a chance to draft include Brian St. Pierre (Boston College), Kyle Boller (California), Tony Romo *Eastern Illinois), Brad Banks (Iowa), Seneca Wallace (Iowa State), Dave Ragone (Louiseville), Rob Adisson (Mount Union), Juston Wood (Portland), Chris Simms (Texas), Jason Gesser (Washington State) and Brooks Bollinger (Wisconsin).

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